By Barry Willis
Before there was Hamilton, there was In the Heights, the first hugely successful musical with lyrics and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, with book by Quiara Alegria Hudes. The song-and-dance extravaganza runs at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts through June 24.
Essentially a celebration of life in the barrio of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, the simple drama centers around Nina Rosario (Cristina Hernandez ) a young woman who’s returned to the neighborhood after her first year at Stanford University, an experience not entirely to her liking.
Her family runs Rosario’s taxi and car service, the neighborhood’s largest employer; her would-be boyfriend Benny (Dave J. Abrams) hopes to become both the company’s chief dispatcher and perhaps, a member of the Rosario family, a doubtful possibility in the eyes of her parents Camila and Kevin (Natalie Amaya and Noel Anthony, respectively). The Rosarios also wrestle with the implications of selling the business to fund more Stanford for Nina, an eventuality that could disrupt the social structure of the neighborhood.
…a dazzling spectacle and a really satisfying performance…
The show’s large cast makes great use of the Margaret Lesher Theatre’s wide stage, dressed to the two-level max by scenic designer Leah Ramillano with very effective aid by lighting designer Wen-Ling Liao.
Choreographer Sara Templeton puts her dancers through one exhaustive exercise after another, propelled by a tremendous backstage band led by Nicolas Perez. The band’s unnamed drummer works his tail off throughout the show with an unbelievably dynamic performance that sustains both performers and audience alike.
The first act is especially bombastic. And there’s the rub. Miranda throws in some rap, and some Spanish rap, but in keeping with the popular trend in musical theater, his songs lack melody. Most of the cast shouts at the audience, and many lyrics are somewhat masked by the band and/or sound effects. Spoken dialog is all clear and convincingly delivered, including several scenes that comically exploit differences in regional and national dialects among native speakers of Spanish.
The show is rampant with talent—not only the leads but many of the minor characters too. Alex Alvarez is superb and hilarious as “Piragua Guy,” who pushes his icy-drink cart all over the neighborhood. Michelle Navarrete is especially charming as Abuela Claudia, the barrio’s all-purpose grandmother and source of reassurance.
After its success on Broadway, In the Heights went into syndication among regional theater troupes. The sumptuous Lesher Center and CenterREP’s aspirational production are as close as you’re likely to come to the original. It’s a dazzling spectacle and a really satisfying performance.
|Production||Into the Heights|
|Written by||Quiara Alegria Hudes
Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Nicholas C. Avila
|Producing Company||Center Repertory Company|
|Production Dates||Thru June 24th|
|Production Address||Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive
Walnut Creek CA 94596
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review Pick?||Yes!|